Steelers and Dwyer still intend to make a run at it
August 19, 2013 4:00 PM
Jonathan Dwyer might not be the popular pick to start at running back for the Steelers, but he doesn't see it that way.
Jonathan Dwyer gains four yards in a game against the Cowboys last season.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Their annual rushing leaders rank among the most memorable names in Steelers history. Among them were Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis, John Henry Johnson, Bullet Bill Dudley, Willie Parker, Barry Foster.
Yes, Dwyer etched his name in Steelers lore by leading the team in rushing in 2012. His reward is to enter a preseason game tonight against the Washington Redskins near the nation's capital as no more than tied for third on the depth chart at halfback.
Listed ahead of him as sharing the top spot are Isaac Redman and rookie Le'Veon Bell. Mike Tomlin has Dwyer and Baron Batch sharing No. 3. All combined did not rush for as many yards in the NFL as Dwyer did in 2012.
So why the snub?
Perhaps those 265 pounds Dwyer lugged into spring practices, stunning his coaches, were a reason. Or the fact that they drafted Bell in the second round after he ran for 1,793 yards at Michigan State in 2012. Or that Dwyer's 623 yards in 2012 -- the fewest number to lead the Steelers since Merril Hoge did so with 610 in 1991 -- really weren't enough to secure a spot at the top of their depth chart.
The Steelers signed him to a one-year, $1.3 million tender as a restricted free agent and then discovered they had gotten way more than they thought, about 35 pounds more.
Whatever it was, Dwyer must prove himself again, and he came to the training camp that wound up over the weekend determined to do just that. He left those extra pounds at home and after three weeks of camp, 230-pound Dwyer enters the second preseason game tonight quietly making his case.
Game: Steelers vs. Washington Redskins.
Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.
When: 8 p.m.
"I feel like I haven't played up to my full potential," Dwyer said. "If anything, people don't have to write about it, people don't have to say anything, I know what I'm capable of, I know what our room is capable of."
That room of running backs would seem to be a tad crowded at the moment. Bell joined a group of veterans that included Dwyer, Redman, Batch and LaRod Stephens-Howling, who signed as a free agent. They might keep only four halfbacks along with fullback Will Johnson. Dwyer and Batch could be competing for one spot.
Dwyer, though, has bigger goals in mind and, like Redman, said he is not ready to concede the starting job to a rookie.
"No, by any means. I'd rather him beat me out just because he's better, not because he works harder, not because of anything. I'm going to give everyone a run for their money and I know everybody's going to give me a run for their money."
Dwyer maintains that drafting a halfback in the second round did not motivate him.
"I motivated myself. I know what I can do. I know what I did last year. I know I can do better. If I want to be in that special group around the league, you have to sacrifice and do a lot of different things to be on that level."
It would seem maybe he finally learned that lesson after seeing the disgust on his coaches' faces when he arrived for organized team activities in April. They were not happy with his plumpness, although Dwyer said they did not say anything to him about it. He does not know why he let himself get so big, but, "Now I'm in the best shape I possibly can be."
"Just one thing led to another," Dwyer said of his weight gain. "I'm not going to blame anything. It was my fault. It's not going to happen anymore.
"Coach Tomlin just said, 'We know what you expect, we're not going to call you out."'
The old wake-up call apparently went off.
"It's just a lifestyle change for myself," Dwyer said.
It is possible that Bell will make his debut tonight with the Steelers. Tomlin will decide if his knee bruise, reinjured Thursday in practice, is a sufficient enough reason again to sit the rookie for a second preseason game. If that's the case, Dwyer again may not get to run with the first-team offense. But if Bell does not play, Dwyer could start because Redman did not do much at practice Saturday after experiencing a "stinger" on Thursday.
Either way, their leading rusher from 2012 is not complaining.
"I'm excited every day we step on the field, whether it's practice or anything to show what I can do, to show myself and try to separate myself from the pack and make each other better. I'm just excited to be out there.
"It's a privilege to play this game."
Maybe that message was received just in the nick of time for Dwyer.